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Demonstrators press IG Farben to dissolve and pay war victims

FRANKFURT, March 23 (JTA) — Shareholders of the company that produced the gas used at Nazi death camps are demanding that the firm liquidate itself immediately and distribute all the proceeds to former slave laborers forced to work for the company during the Nazi era. IG Farben’s liquidators recently proposed such a policy, but they suggested that only a small portion of the proceeds be set aside in a foundation for Holocaust victims. Nor did they give any time frame for dissolving the company. A nationwide coalition of groups representing Holocaust survivors, as well as IG Farben shareholders, held a news conference here Tuesday to criticize the company’s plans. A spokesman for the Coalition Against IG Farben, Georg Brau, questioned the sincerity of the company’s recently announced plans for dissolution. “We suspect that they have proposed a foundation for Holocaust victims in order to delay the company’s liquidation,” Brau said. He also criticized the proposal for the foundation, expected to be discussed when the company holds its annual meeting here later this week. During World War II, an IG Farben subsidiary produced Zyklon B gas, which was used in the Nazi gas chambers. The pre-World War II chemical company also built a plant on the outskirts of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland to produce artificial rubber and synthetic gasoline. The plant operated largely with slave laborers from Auschwitz. An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 workers, most of whom were Jewish, died as a result of the plant’s inhumane working conditions. Earlier this week, three former Jewish slave laborers for IG Farben filed a lawsuit in a Frankfurt court demanding back pay as well as damages for their involuntary labor during the war. The three Polish-born Israelis are asking for some $5,600 apiece in damages and between $20,670 to $33,520 for back wages, based on the duration of their forced labor. The Allies broke up the company into smaller units after the war. But I.G. Farben claimed it needed a skeleton staff to wrap up company business — which it is still doing five decades later. The Coalition Against IG Farben announced it would set up a blockade
at the entrance to the hall where company shareholders will convene for Thursday’s annual meeting. Axel Koehler-Schnura, a spokesman for “Never Again!” a German group fighting for compensation for Holocaust victims, sharply criticized the city of Frankfurt for providing space for the shareholders’ meeting. It is “a colossal scandal and a mockery of the victims,” he said at Tuesday’s news conference. This is the fourth attempt by the company to hold its annual meeting. Picketing threats from numerous groups representing Holocaust victims caused postponements of the previously scheduled meetings. At the news conference, there was also considerable criticism of a recent plan announced by the German government to compensate former slave laborers through a foundation funded by German firms. So far, 13 companies have announced they will participate in the foundation. No sums have been announced for compensation. Members of groups representing Holocaust survivors expressed anger that the German government has refused to negotiate with them directly about compensation, working instead with several U.S. Jewish organizations. They also questioned the German companies’ desire to pay compensation only if survivors agree to renounce their rights to file lawsuits against the firms.